Asbury History

Asbury City Hall 1975Asbury Volunteer Fire DepartmentMichael Wernimont's Blacksmith Shop 1898Members attend the Oxus Grotto Building Dedication in 1960Philomena Peaches Late 50'sSchoolchildren outside of the schoolhouse in 1937St. Philomena's as built in 1920

Asbury City Hall 1975

Asbury Volunteer Fire Department 1972

Michael Wernimont's Blacksmith Shop 1898

Members attend the Oxus Grotto Building Dedication in 1960

Philomena Peaches Late 50's

Schoolchildren outside of the schoolhouse in 1937

St. Philomena's as built in 1920

The following article was published in the July 21st, 1999 "Nostalgia" section of the Telegraph Herald.

Asbury's long, colorful history includes Methodist origins:
By: Len Kruse

Thrives:  The Asbury Community started in the 1830's and never stopped

     Once called the tiniest town in the state, Asbury is located in Section 20 of Dubuque Township in Dubuque County. A colorful history surrounds the town, especially in the years before the invention of the automobile. 

     Asbury was founded in the 1830's by Methodists who named it after Bishop Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop in America. In October 1844, the first meeting of the Asbury Society was held in the farm of Jacob Lundbeck, and by the spring of 1846, a small log Methodist church was built. 

     A schoolhouse existed as early as 1845 with its first teacher coming from Indiana. One of the earliest settlers, William Kelly, obtained a land grant from the federal government, and another pioneer was Michael Wernimont who bought land in Asbury in 1850. 

     The small log Methodist church was replaced by a larger frame building in 1851, the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church. 

     The first Catholic Mass in Asbury was celebrated at the home of James Lyons in March, 1856. A group of Asbury landowners, along with Bishop Loras and Father Patrick McCabe, subscribed for a church. Kelly donated land and, in 1857, a small frame Catholic church was erected called St. Philomena’s in honor of the Roman martyr. 

     History reports that Kelly operated a one-room tavern in 1868. In 1871, a Catholic school was started. John Savage donated the land for the school and 60 pupils enrolled. That year a large two-story brick Methodist church to accommodate 250 people was constructed in place of the small frame church. 

     Michael Wernimont ran a saloon and a general store out of his home with his blacksmith shop out in back. Wernimont became widely known for his fine blacksmithing. In those early times, farmers came from miles around to have their horses shod and plowshares sharpened, while they shopped in the store or drank beer at the tavern, all in the same spot. 

     Some people do not realize that at one time there was an Asbury Post Office. It was established on March 3, 1893, in the Wernimont general store and Wernimont served as postmaster. On June 29, 1895, the post office closed, but it was re-opened on Dec. 1, 1897, in the John F. Kingsley home, and Kingsley was the postmaster. He was a Dubuque County Board Supervisor for many years and quite prominent in political circles. 

     At the turn of the century, Asbury’s population changed. Fewer and fewer people supported the large Methodist church, so it was razed and a new smaller one constructed in its place. The parsonage was sold, too. 

     The Post Office Department instituted Rural Free Delivery in 1900 and the Asbury post office was closed for good by June 29, as were many other small offices in the state. 

     In 1901, a public-one room school was built. Timothy Gilloon was the school director and Sara Larkin the first teacher of 33 pupils. Miss Larkin was paid $25 per month. 

     Christian Weideman operated the Asbury grocery store from 1902-1958 and then Mr. and Mrs. Harry Ernster took over. Harry Earnster’s father Nick had been a blacksmith, carpenter and stone mason in Asbury.
     In 1920, a brick edifice for St. Philomena’s Catholic Church replaced the frame structure. 

     In order to have legalized sales of beer, the Town of Asbury incorporated in 1933. The first city council meeting was held Sept. 11, 1933, with Walter Keck as mayor. 

     During the Great Depression in 1936, the three miles of road from Dubuque’s City limits to the Asbury Cemetery was re-surfaced. Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers did the work. WPA had been founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to provide for needy people to work on public works projects.
     Del Wagner had been bequeathed many acres of land on Pennsylvania Avenue where he started growing shrubs, evergreens, and trees, his great interest from childhood. In 1945, he purchased the Walter Keck property and increased his business into what is the Wagner Nursery, still in operation. 

     The Asbury Community Fire Department became an official body in May 1957, and 1960 brought a new Oxus Grotto Recreation building. Its members did the construction. 

     In 1961, a Catholic school was opened. The Church of the Resurrection, its rectory and covenant were added and finally completed at 4300 Asbury Road in 1968. As a result, the old St. Philomena’s Church was soon vacated and sold. The group which bought the church had the foresight to see it was a food site for a senior and nursing facility. They remodeled the church, added two wings and opened Heritage Manor in October 1969. That was the year the United Methodist Church in Asbury celebrated its 125th anniversary. 

     The old public school was sold in 1975 to the Town of Asbury for a City Hall. The pupils had been incorporated into the Dubuque Community School system. 

     The Methodist Church building went on to serve as a community center for young people and seniors but has since become a wedding chapel and shoppe.*

     Asbury is now booming and undergoing numerous changes to its land and development. The city clerk estimates the population to be 2,200 people at the present time.** Who knows what Asbury will be in the new millennium.

*The Methodist Church building is currently home to Tonic Salon and Day Spa.
** The public school is currently home to Jumble Coffee House.
***The current population of Asbury, as of 2018, is estimated to be just under 6,000 residents.